Elasticity-based development of functionally enhanced multicellular 3D liver encapsulated in hybrid hydrogel.
We previously showed that primary rat hepatocytes plated on a rat-tail collagen coated dish and fed a chemically-defined medium supplemented with 2% dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) can be maintained in a well-differentiated, non-replicating state for periods of several months. In this study, we show that the addition of copper, iron, and zinc to the DMSO-containing chemically defined medium induced DNA synthesis and cell replication during the first two months in culture without loss of hepatic differentiation. DNA synthesis occurred throughout the hepatocyte population without regard to cellular size. No changes were observed in properties indicative of well-differentiated hepatocytes, including cellular morphology, ultrastructure, albumin, or cytokeratin-8 expression. During the third month in culture, after the hepatocytes had become confluent, pseudoduct structures became apparent. Examination of cells lining the ducts by immunohistochemistry showed that these cells lost the ability to express albumin and stained more intensely for cytokeratin 19 and laminin. The ultrastructure of the cells lining the ducts was altered and became more characteristic of bile duct cells. Immunoelectron microscopy revealed that connexin 43, a marker of bile-duct proliferation, was expressed in the duct-like cells. We conclude that under these specific nutritive conditions, primary rat hepatocytes proliferate and, with time, begin to form duct-like structures with altered gene expression and ultrastructural properties.